|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on November 9, 2020 at 10:25 AM|
After a week spent impatiently refreshing web pages to see when we would have an answer about our election, it a little funny to hear this parable form Jesus this morning, where he tell us to get ready for a long wait in the darkness!
Because waiting is something we don't do all that well- as American or as humans in general. Because waiting is hard. Well, maybe not too hard at the beginning. When you start waiting for anything, it’s exciting. There’s so much too look forward to and you’re counting down and are ready to spring into action when the day arrives. You get prepared and wait like those 10 bridesmaids who come with joy with their lamps lit.
But then an hour passes. You get a little irritated. And start looking at your phone or your watch. You worry a little that something bad happened or you just get angry that this is taking so long.
And then an hour turns into two or three. You have to use the bathroom. You’re hungry and thirsty because you’ve already used up all your snacks. And then it gets dark. And maybe you stop worrying about being prepared, because who cares anymore. You may fall asleep, like all 10 of the bridesmaids did. But you definitely start to wonder whether the groom is still coming. Because when its dark and the waiting is long, we start to trust the darkness more than the One we’re waiting for.
And then, the groom comes. And some of the bridesmaids aren’t ready. So they run to get oil and miss Jesus when he comes. And I’m not sure what to do with that- with those foolish bridesmaids getting left out of the party. I don’t think that this parable overrides the desperate love that Jesus has for all of us who mess up. I can’t believe we are going to be shut out of heaven for running out of oil and not being prepared as well as we should have. But maybe it’s a little closer to what one of my students heard when she went to her first AA meeting a few years ago.
Someone told her, “You can come here week after week for 10 years and sit here and we’ll love you and welcome you. But if you want to recover, you have to work the steps.” Pretty much, you need to take an active part in your own recovery if you’re going to enjoy a life where addiction doesn’t control you. And even then it will be something you recommit to every day.
So perhaps Jesus is saying- you can still be a beloved bridesmaid no matter what, but the truth is that each of you need to do your own work of following me, your own work of keeping your lamps lit and no one else can do that for you. You need to get yourself ready.
Now, as someone who feels like I’m always unprepared, this worries me a little. Perhaps like some of you, I always feel like I’m just shy of being ready for what life throws at me and one step behind everything that I need to do. So when I read a parable that pretty much says to live my life prepared or else, I feel overwhelmed. And a little afraid of getting the door shut in the my face.
But this parable isn’t about fear- it’s actually about encouragement, even if it’s a little uncomfortable. It’s not meant to overwhelm us, but to focus us. Jesus isn’t saying that we need to live ready for everything. Instead it tells us that we just need to be ready for one thing- the future Jesus is bringing. To keep our lamps filled and burning to welcome that day.
And we do that by doing the work that Jesus began- caring for the poor, visiting those in prison, forgiving those who mess up, giving away our money, welcoming those who are lonely or ignored. We do that by And it speaking the love of God for all people holding onto hope in God’s future for the sake of our neighbors.
Now, that may not be a list of things you would put as most important in your life. It may not be a list of what leads to fulfillment and happiness for you all the time. But this morning, Jesus says this is the work we are to be about while we have the chance. This is what leads to life and to wisdom and to joy. This is how we get ready for the feast and keep our lamps lit.
That may seem overwhelming, but the grace in it is that while we do this, we don’t need to be ready for everything else that the world tells you to! We only have so much energy and so much time to do things. It’s a little like when someone brings a new baby home. Suddenly you don’t worry about looking your best or cleaning the house perfectly or watching the TV programs you like. You are single-mindedly focused on one thing- caring for this little one- so you start to realize what is of importance. And other things may not get done. And that’s ok. Because the most important thing is all that matters.
Jesus is telling us to live like his coming to set the world right- is all we really need to get ready for. What would your life look like if that were the case? What in life would you stop doing? What things seem trivial and unimportant when your focus is on living out Jesus’ way of life? What are those things that take your attention away from Jesus’ hope for the world or make you give up on it? And what things- that may even be good things- simply aren’t as important when getting ready for Jesus to come in your first goal?
Perhaps these are things that might need to be left behind so that we can be waiting with oil ready when the bridegroom appears. Because, Jesus says, the wait in the darkness is going to be awhile. So prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Which I think we’ve gotten a little used to in this pandemic.
Back in March, we may have had grand plans about taking on new hobbies or projects in our homes. Maybe we baked bread or started to exercise or set up ambitious schedules for ourselves. But then the pandemic just kept going.
And we’ve realized that we can’t keep it all up. So now, as the new wave of the virus comes now and new restrictions are likely to happen, perhaps we will be wiser. Maybe we have learned that we need to only focus on the most important things to be prepared- caring for family, looking out for neighbors, providing for those who are vulnerable, and doing the few things that keep our hearts and minds centered in God’s hope. We need to keep these at the center of our lives. And let a whole lot of things go.
That’s what Jesus is saying this morning. Just focus on the most important things. Bring healing to others in word and deed and share what you have. Speak and make peace in your family and your community. Forgive relentlessly and be willing to speak about God’s love and justice and hope for this world. Just focus on that. Not all the other things fighting for your attention. And I promise, I’ll be back to finish the work I have begun in you.
As you’re waiting for me to set the world right, Jesus says, wait with hope and keep your lamps lit. Trust that the darkness you’re waiting in isn’t stronger than the One who is coming. So encourage each other with my hope when you’re weary. When others are distracted by the long wait and the dark night, show your neighbors where to get oil so they can live ready, too. And keep coming to this community- however we may gather in the months to come- to pray for strength and courage for each other when the darkness is too much.
Because Jesus is coming to heal all that is broken and restore all that has been diminished and fill up all that is empty. And he invites us to be about that work now, to be about God’s work with courage, to keep our lamps lit, so we’ll be ready to dance in the feast that will have no end.